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The Three Trillion Dollar War

NEW YORK – With March 20 marking the fifth anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq, it’s time to take stock of what has happened. In our new book The Three Trillion Dollar War , Harvard’s Linda Bilmes and I conservatively estimate the economic cost of the war to the US to be $3 trillion, and the costs to the rest of the world to be another $3 trillion – far higher than the Bush administration’s estimates before the war. The Bush team not only misled the world about the war’s possible costs, but has also sought to obscure the costs as the war has gone on.

This is not surprising. After all, the Bush administration lied about everything else, from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction to his supposed link with al-Qaeda. Indeed, only after the US-led invasion did Iraq become a breeding ground for terrorists.

The Bush administration said the war would cost $50 billion. The US now spends that amount in Iraq every three months. To put that number in context: for one-sixth of the cost of the war, the US could put its social security system on a sound footing for more than a half-century, without cutting benefits or raising contributions.

Moreover, the Bush administration cut taxes for the rich as it went to war, despite running a budget deficit. As a result, it has had to use deficit spending – much of it financed from abroad –to pay for the war. This is the first war in American history that has not demanded some sacrifice from citizens through higher taxes; instead, the entire cost is being passed onto future generations. Unless things change, the US national debt – which was $5.7 trillion when Bush became president – will be $2 trillion higher because of the war (in addition to the $800 billion increase under Bush before the war) .